Archives for February, 2011
Happiness has been a perennial topic with waves of interest that have come and gone. Ezra Bayda is author of Being Zen and his newest release Beyond Happiness which gives us some insight into what leads to a truly content life. He tells us that true happiness is really available to all of us and there are practical ways to get there. Ezra teaches at the Zen Center in San Diego, Ca. Elisha: Ok Ezra, I’m going get directly to the point. What is the key to true contentment in life? Ezra: There is no one “key” to living a genuinely happy life, but the deepest happiness of equanimity grows with our ability to stay with present moment reality and flowers as we water the roots of the generosity of the heart, including our inherent capacity for gratitude, loving-kindness and forgiveness – all of which need to be cultivated. This is the overview; the “how to” is what my book, Beyond Happiness, is all about. Elisha: What blocks us from happiness?
As you may or may not have heard, a recent study lead by Britta Holzel, PhD, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, showed significant benefits to our brains with a group of people engaging an 8-week program in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). More specifically, the group who took MBSR showed an increase in gray matter in key parts of the brain connected to learning, memory and a decrease in gray matter in the amygdala also known as the “fear circuit,” connected with anxiety and stress. When a study like this comes out a flurry of activity hits the web through news articles and blogs, but what does it really mean? Does an increase in gray matter mean that if we practice mindfulness meditation for 30-minutes a day for 8 weeks we’ll be smarter, be able to retain more information or have less fear?
For those of you who don’t know Sharon Salzberg, she one of America’s leading mindfulness teachers and authors and has played a significant role in bringing mindfulness and the practice of lovingkindness to all of us in the Western world. She is co-founder of one of America’s premier meditation centers, Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre Massachusetts and is the author of many books and CDs, including her classic Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness,The Kindness Handbook: A Practical Companion, and her newest release Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. If you’re in Los Angeles, don’t miss Sharon at InsightLA on Saturday, February 26th from 10am – 1pm. Hope to see you there. Today Sharon talks to us about what Real Happiness is, how she integrates compassion practices into her life, and how an everyday totally stressed out person can start moving to real happiness. Elisha: The first question that I have is what is real happiness and how do we all get it?
One day after relocating his family to Boston, Massachusetts, Rabbi Harold Kushner was informed by a local pediatrician that his 3 year old son Aaron would never grow taller than 3 feet and would suffer the symptoms of progeria “rapid aging.” This news threw his entire belief about God out the window. He would go on to wonder how a God that he had been so loyal to could do such a terrible thing to him. Rabbi Kushner went on to make it his life’s work to explore When Bad Things Happen to Good People. This is an extreme example, but we all suffer blows in life that seem unfair. After being put in a time-out as a kid, I used to complain to my mom that "It’s just not fair.” She turned to me and said, “Elisha, life’s just not fair.” At the time I thought she was mocking me, but the fact is she was just giving me one of the elementary lessons of life.
At this time of year there are many people who don’t have a significant other and so many articles come out around how to love yourself and the various things you can do to make Valentine’s Day special just on your own or with your friends. But what about if you do have a significant other? How can we bring more mindfulness to the relationship to make Valentine’s Day a reminder for reconnection? There’s a lot of pressure that comes with the package of this day; restaurants are booked, a lot of money can be spent, and there can even be resentment for having to do something special on a particular day. Sometimes we lose sight on what this day is all about. The bottom line: The purpose of Valentine’s Day is to share love and affection between two intimate companions.
If you've been following for a while you know there is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog where (almost) every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by the 8th century Indian scholar Shantideva: “All joy in this world comes from wanting others to be happy, and all suffering in this world comes from wanting only oneself to be happy.” Somewhere along the way many of us develop this notion that the goal above all else in life is for us, individually, to be happy. We begin to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of others. One major problem in depression is this painful self-focus as the ruminations just go on and on. And if our goal is to be happy, but others get hurt or ignored in the process, I promise there will be no happiness. The fact is, we are not islands.
The first edition of A Mindful Dialogue launched January 24, 2010 right after the earthquake in Haiti and was created as a vehicle toward raising the necessary funds to inspire hope and to help rebuild a devastated Haiti. As you well know, the Haiti Earthquake created trauma for millions of people – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In the blink of an eye, millions of people lost friends, family, and community. Hospitals, factories and government agencies turned into rubble. The ability to send and receive communication, resources and food disappeared. That means every single thing that Haitians needed to survive was brought into them from the outside. A Mindful Dialogue raised over $2,000 to Hope for Haiti Now. Since this time there has been a major flood in Pakistan, a striking Cholera Outbreak in Haiti and now more than ever the children of Egypt are in the midst of violent clashes putting them at risk for death, injury or psychological trauma. The children still need our help! One of the greatest gifts of mindfulness is that it inspires kindness and compassion in us. I’ve expanded A Mindful Dialogue into a 2nd edition to include some more interviews and writings with leaders in the field including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Daniel Siegel,